In April 1986 I was approached and asked if I was interested in writing a film column for a new upmarket lifestyle magazine to be called North & South. This was to be a spin-off of the highly successful Auckland Metro magazine founded in 1981 by journalist Warwick Roger, who also became its editor. I had written several feature articles on film and other local cultural matters for Metro in the early 1980s and Warwick liked my style. His wife Robyn Langwell was to be the editor of the new magazine and he had passed on my name to her. I wrote an audition review of The Big Chill for a mock-up issue and was promptly appointed to write a monthly column dubbed “Viewing” so that I could (should I so wish) analyse television and video as well as film. Thus began eight highly enjoyable years of viewing and writing.
North & South was designed to complement Metro, not compete with it. Its feature stories were to be about New Zealand outside of Auckland. The irony was that, because all the film distributors ran their media previews in Auckland, you had to live there to write a film column. The magazine aimed at the high end of the market, glossy, aspirational. I was thus a person residing in the Metro-politan market but supposedly writing for the provincial reader. I was instructed to write well, to be interesting, lively and intelligent. The editor said that the typical North & South reader was well educated and interested in films, but selective in what they watched. Although I could write about both film and television, about 80% of my columns were about movies. At no time did I experience any editorial interference with the substance or style of my columns nor any attempt to influence my opinions or judgements.
I made a philosophical decision that I would attempt to review every New Zealand film that it was practical for me to see and critique within the magazine’s deadlines. This did mean that the New Zealand films I considered ranged from the competent or brilliant down to the incompetent, even woeful. I dealt with each as honestly as I could, treating Kiwi films no differently from Hollywood product. It was the opposite of a double standard as I tried sedulously to avoid patronising them. Nevertheless I was still chided by directors, writers, exhibitors and actors for supposedly putting the boot in unfairly. Overall, from the distance of a decade or more, I am happy with most of my judgments and particularly pleased that my reviews of Queen City Rocker and Te Rua remain perhaps the most detailed analyses those neglected films have received anywhere.